DUSHANBE -- The head of Tajikistan's Council of Islamic Scholars says a special Islamic education program for children is being planned to quell criticism of a draft law banning children from entering a mosque, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Saidmukarram Abdulqodirzoda said he hopes that once the program -- which is being developed by the Education Ministry and religious institutions -- is approved, Islamic courses for children over the age of 7 will be opened in all main mosques, and any child will be able to participate.
The proposed new program is intended to counter international criticism of the Parental Responsibility Law proposed in December by President Emomali Rahmon.
That law bans children under the age of 18 from attending regular Friday Prayers in mosques, and holds parents of underage children caught attending Friday Prayers legally responsible for allowing them to do so.
The controversial law allows children and teenagers who study at religious schools to attend mosques freely and join religious associations. All other teenagers may pray at mosques only on religious festivals and at funerals.
Prominent Tajik religious leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Hoji Akbar Turajonzoda has criticized the law, telling RFE/RL it is "openly against the will of God."
Tajik Ambassador to the OSCE Nuriddin Shamsov told a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on June 23 that the draft law was published for nationwide discussion.
Some 30,000 people have submitted comments and 4,000 have endorsed the draft unequivocally, RFE/RL reports. Not a single change was made to the draft bill before the lower chamber of parliament passed it on June 15. The upper chamber has not yet voted on it and it also needs Rahmon's signature to become law.
Shamsov stressed on June 23, in response to a statement by the U.S. delegation to the OSCE, that Tajikistan still faces serious security challenges from its southern neighbors, including terrorism and religious extremism.
He said the Tajik government seeks to uphold secular values and protect the younger generation from falling prey to violent Islamic extremism and radicalization.
Shamsov said that is why the proposed law banning young people from attending Friday Prayers is being considered -- as a means to "protect children" from what he called "the growing religious pressure" they have been subjected to in recent years.